Desert Isle Keeper
I bow to no one in my love of Lisa Kleypas’ historical romances. I love her style, her characters, and her wonderful sense of time and place, so when she announced her move to the contemporary arena, I’ll admit I shuddered. When I got an ARC of Sugar Daddy at work, I opened it with some trepidation. Silly me to have worried – this book is a delight and features one of the best heroines I’ve met in a long time. I know it’s early yet, but right now she’s my choice for best heroine of 2007.
Liberty Jones’s Mexican American father was killed on an oil rig when she was young and all she remembers of him is how he’d give her rides on his shoulders. Liberty inherited his dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin – she is quite a contrast to her blonde mother, Diana. As the book begins, Liberty is 11-years-old and she, her mother, and her mother’s shiftless but good natured boyfriend move into a trailer park in Welcome, Texas where most of the inhabitants are the working class poor. One of the first people Liberty meets is Hardy Cates, a boy whose family was left in hard circumstances after their father went to jail. Hardy works, goes to school, and burns with ambition to become someone important. Hardy has a reputation as a wild, bad boy but he is always kind to Liberty, who develops a big crush on him. Hardy quite steals her heart, but he has big plans and leaves Welcome as soon as he can.
When Diana becomes pregnant and tires of supporting her lazy boyfriend, she kicks him out. She has a baby girl whom Liberty names Carrington after a favorite character in a soap opera. Liberty is fiercely devoted to her sister and is more of a mother to her than Diana. By working hard, and cultivating the attentions of the trailer park manager (her sugar daddy), Diana manages to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, but there are no luxuries for Liberty and her sister. Life becomes harder when Diana is killed in a traffic accident leaving Liberty, who has just graduated from high school, in charge of Carrington.
Liberty moves to Houston where there are more job opportunities and gets a scholarship to beauty school. After she graduates she starts an entry level job in a posh salon where her salary and tips allow her to give Carrington a few little luxuries. One day a famous investment mogul, Churchill Travis, comes into the salon and Liberty talks him into a manicure. Churchill takes a fatherly interest in Liberty and she comes to care for the kind man. When Churchill breaks his legs in an accident, he offers Liberty a job as his personal assistant, but wants her and her sister to live in his home. This does not sit well with Churchill’s oldest son Gage, but it doesn’t take too long for his anger and suspicion to change to respect and then to love.
Just as things are looking rosy for Liberty, Hardy Cates comes back. He’s left the trailer park behind and is a rich man…and sexier than ever. And Hardy knows some secrets that can blow Liberty’s comfortable world apart.
It took me about two sentences to fall in love with Liberty Jones. Sugar Daddy is told in the first person, so we get to know her quite well. It’s not too often that a romance features characters who, frankly live on the wrong side of the tracks, but Liberty and her family and friends are not just middle class characters who are temporarily slumming. They live with no safety net under them and are one check ahead of disaster. If it seems as though Liberty gets some very lucky breaks, well there’s a reason – read the book to find out. She is tough and smart and not afraid to work and dream. I wanted her to succeed and find happiness. No one deserves it more.
Sugar Daddy isn’t a pure romance novel since most of the story centers on Liberty’s experiences growing up and struggling to take care of herself and her sister. Since most of the book is about Liberty’s coming of age, it reads more like woman’s fiction, although romance lovers will have no complaints since Liberty does find love and a very happy ending. The secondary characters, especially Churchill and Hardy are very well developed even though we only see them through Liberty’s eyes.
Sugar Daddy kept me happily engrossed during a snowy weekend and when I finished it, I wanted more. It’s been about two weeks since I finished the book and I want more now! Yes, Lisa Kleypas and contemporary romance are going to be a good match.